November 25, 2008 – Record crowds, a grandstand finish and probably the greatest shot in the history of the tournament – the 50th edition of the UBS Hong Kong Open was the best yet.
Total attendance at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling topped 35,000 – about 4,000 more than in 2007.
And those lucky enough to be there on Sunday (November 23) saw an enthralling day’s play capped by a sensational three-way playoff that ended with Lin Wen Tang of Chinese Taipei being crowned champion.
“It was an unforgettable week,” said Iain Valentine, chief executive of the Hong Kong Golf Association.
“We had our biggest ever crowds but, at the same time, the behaviour of spectators was exemplary.
“As the Hong Kong public become more familiar with golf, so they are respectful of the course etiquette that goes with watching it. We were delighted with crowd conduct throughout the week.”
Fans at the European and Asian Tour co-sanctioned event were rewarded with some stunning golf as the players on a packed leaderboard jostled for position on the final day.
While Lin, Thailand’s Chawalit Plaphol and Malaysia’s Iain Steel were flying the flag for Asia, Northern Irish teenager Rory McIlroy and Oliver Wilson of England were each seeking a first European Tour victory.
Rising Spanish star Pablo Larrazábal and Italian Francesco Molinari were also in the mix while there was heartfelt support for 1991 Hong Kong champion Bernhard Langer, 51, as he rolled back the years with a vintage display.
And there was the added bonus of two-time Major winner John Daly – hugely popular with the galleries – going out early on the final morning and coming within one shot of the course record with a blistering eight-under-par 62.
Even before Sunday, the UBS Hong Kong Open had earned in a place in the history books when Hong Kong-born Jason Hak, aged just 14, became the youngest player ever to make the cut in a European Tour event.
Hak broke the record held by Spain’s Sergio Garcia and capped a memorable week by playing alongside two-time Masters champion José María Olazábal in the final round.
At the business end of the tournament, Lin missed a five-foot birdie putt on the par-four 18th that would have sealed the title and was pitched into a playoff with McIlroy and Molinari.
No one among the thousands of fans packed around the 18th green and fairway will ever forget Lin’s approach shot on the first playoff hole.
Trapped in the trees after hooking his drive, he appeared to have no choice but to chip back on to the fairway.
Instead, he took out his sand wedge and hit the ball as hard as he could, up through the branches and high over the lake guarding the green, landing six feet from the flag.
Lin and McIlroy both birdied the hole while Molinari dropped out with a par.
When the remaining duo played the 18th again, it was McIlroy’s turn to produce a wonder shot, bending his approach around some trees to the end of the green.
But Lin answered with a dream approach to within inches of the pin and, after McIlroy’s birdie effort went wide, the Taiwanese tapped in for a hugely popular victory.
Lin, 34, became the first Asian player to win the tournament since Korea’s Kang Wook Soon 10 years ago.
“It’s amazing how much drama we’ve had at the 72nd hole down the years,” reflected Valentine.
“The 18th at Fanling is difficult enough in the first three rounds, but in the final round it really comes into its own. It has to be one of the best finishing holes in world golf.
“Everyone talks about José María Olazábal’s stunning approach shot when he birdied the hole to win in 2001. If anything, Lin’s shot in the playoff was even more amazing and it’s appropriate that Olazábal was there to see it.
“This was also the sixth year in a row the tournament has been decided on the final putt. When it comes to edge-of-the-seat drama, the Hong Kong Open seems to specialise in it.”
Lin’s victory in the 50th UBS Hong Kong Open book-ended the historic tournament perfectly – the inaugural winner in 1959 was another Taiwanese player, Lu Liang Huan.
With Lin crowned champion, thoughts are already turning to the 2009 edition.
“Planning has already started,” confirmed Martin Capstick of tournament promoters Parallel Media Group.
“The challenge will be to raise the bar even higher but, given the commitment of everyone involved in staging the 2008 tournament, we are confident we can do it.”